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February 5, 2013

Army whistleblower deserves fair trial

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The Daily Star

---- — Who is Pfc. Bradley Manning and why has he been in a military prison, perhaps tortured, for more than 30 months?

His name may sound familiar, but perhaps you cannot place it in context because his case does not get much attention in the mainstream media. Maybe one of the football Manning brothers, the one who decided on the Army instead of the gridiron? No, not quite.

If you are up on current events, you might recall that he was a guy somehow connected to WikiLeaks, which published sensitive government cables and other documents a few years ago.

Manning, 25, was an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2010 when he was arrested and shipped back to the military jail at Quantico, Va. He was accused of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks, an anti-secrecy group that posted hundreds of thousands of them on its website and provided some to major media such as The New York Times.

The Oklahoma native faces 22 charges, including communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source and aiding the enemy, a capital offense. Prosecutors, however, said they would not seek the death penalty, just a life sentence.

Many people considered Manning a traitor, a wayward soul who committed treason. Others thought he was a whistleblower, who was less guilty of aiding the enemy than of embarrassing the homeland.

He has been detained for nearly 1,000 days, and his incarceration at Quantico has included solitary confinement with stretches of forced nakedness. Though his court martial is not scheduled until June, an Army judge already has reduced his sentence because of his treatment.

So why would a guy who was bullied in school, forced to hide his homosexuality in the Army (”don’t ask/don’t tell’’), and acquired an advanced computer knowledge decide to use that skill by leaking classified documents? As an intelligence analyst, Manning had access to the information and apparently was shocked at what he learned.

He told a friend he became aware of “crazy, almost-criminal political back dealings … the non-PR versions of world events and crises.”

Probably the most-publicized leak was a video, given to WikiLeaks, of a July 2007 air strike by U.S. helicopters in Baghdad. An Apache fires on a group of men, two of those killed being Reuters journalists, and then blasts a van that arrived to pick up the wounded. It appears as if the U.S. personnel knew they were firing on civilians; in fact, two children in the van were injured and their father was killed.

As the months pile up before the trial, Army prosecutors and defense lawyers have been busy arguing motions about evidence, physical and mental, before the military judge. The judge’s most recent ruling, last month, was that prosecutors had to prove that Manning knew he was providing information to the enemy when he leaked documents.

The judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, also said that the defense could present evidence that shows Manning deliberately did not leak information he thought would jeopardize national security.

So what was he doing? Why did he want to leak anything to anybody? That’s a question of motive, and the military has been trying to avoid having that as an issue during the court martial.

Numerous names and groups have come forward to support Manning, and especially are pushing for dropping the “aiding the enemy’’ charges. He actually was acting as a whistleblower, they say, in trying to expose the realities of not only the war in Iraq but also the war on terror in general.

Daniel Ellsberg, the Vietnam War whistleblower who made the Pentagon Papers public in 1971, has called on the government to free Manning. He has written that “the prosecution has withheld key evidence which the defense believes will show that Bradley’s alleged actions have not damaged U.S. national security. And there is clear evidence that the leaks were motivated entirely by conscience.’’

Ellsberg says the information Manning leaked also “revealed governmental and corporate corruption and collusion’’ and “contributed to the ending of the Iraq War and to positive people-power movements’’ in the Middle East and North Africa.

Unfortunately, the government is not likely to drop any charges against Manning, let alone free him. Even President Barack Obama, who signed the Whistleblower Protection Act last year, has said that Manning is guilty as charged long before his so-called “fair trial’’ was scheduled to start.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at brunswick@earthling.net. The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.